Ink & Light: “At First Sight” – Love and Lines from Richard Brautigan

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At First Sight: Sandhill Cranes, Northern British Columbia

Sandhill Cranes choose partners based on graceful mating dances and remain together for life.

…and our graves will be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
In a laundromat
If you will bring the soap
I will bring the bleach.
Richard Brautigan (from Romeo and Juliet, 1970)

– Raised in abject poverty, Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) was struggling to gain a foothold in San Francisco’s literary scene when, in 1967, he published Trout Fishing in America. The counter-culture novel catapulted him to international fame. A year later he solidified his reputation with In Watermelon Sugar. 

The Language of Fishing: A Father and Daughter Story

Maia @ Ja-ike n

Fishing with Maia at Ja-Ike (Snake Pond) in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. Ja-Ike was full of large bluegills and bass, and in spring when everything was newly green it was perhaps the most beautiful stillwater we have ever fished. Wild wysteria with their white and lilac blooms draped the trees and reflected in the clear water, and wild yellow irises could be found along the shore. (The image above and some that follow were scanned from snapshots taken in the day.)

We recently drove Maia out to the short strip of pavement that serves as our airport here in Point Hope and saw her off, back to her home in Berkeley, California, where she is finishing the last leg of her senior year in college. She’d just spent part of her winter break visiting us in our Arctic home. For two beautiful weeks, we did nothing more elaborate than watch movies, cook together, eat great food, and catch up. On the short drive to the airport, a ground blizzard (high winds whipping up already fallen snow) forced me to creep along at the speed of a brisk walk. It was 10:00 a.m. and still pitch black. Once we got to the airport, the three of us, Maia, Barbra and I, sat in the car, heater blasting, talking, waiting. We wondered if the small plane would be able to make it up from Kotzebue.

Suddenly the runway lights came on. A few minutes later we found the lights of the plane in the dark sky as it made its descent. The lone passenger disembarked and the pilot helped a couple of the locals unload supplies for the Native Store onto a pickup truck. When they were finished, we hugged and said our good-byes and Maia climbed aboard. Fifty-mile-an-hour gusts were rocking the little plane and pushing the windchill deep into the negative degrees, but the skies above were clear. Should be a routine flight, and with a tailwind no less, Bar and I agreed. Still, a father worries.

Maia Flying Kite_n

Flying a kite on Folley Beach, South Carolina. 


Maia and I started fishing together not long after she learned to walk. Our excursions began on the banks of the Sakuragawa (Cherry River) in Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan. Like Ja-Ike, Sakuragawa had healthy populations of large bluegills and largemouth bass, and like kids the world over, Maia’s earliest fishing experience was shaped around a pole with a line tied to the end, a float, a hook and a worm. 

Back then, the fishing wasn’t really about the fishing. There were flowers and frogs, water snakes and dragonflies, bike rides and walks. I’d put Maia in a little red seat that attached to the handlebars of my three-speed town cruiser and we’d take off, looking for promising water, singing songs and naming birds and stopping at little shops for snacks along the way. Among our favorite finds were the colorful little kawasemi (Eurasian kingfishers) we’d sometimes spy along the river banks and the mysterious evidence of mozu (shrikes) where they’d impaled their tiny victims on garden fences and small tree branches.

Maia's First Salmon, Columbia River n

Maia caught her first salmon, a bright Coho fresh from the sea, on a late summer day near the mouth of the Columbia River not far from our home in Astoria, Oregon. Is there any better dinner than a good fish you caught yourself?

But most of all, those early fishing trips were about us – two buddies, hanging out, discovering a world that was new for both of us. It didn’t matter if we caught fish. In fact, sometimes we didn’t even get around to the fishing. There was always lots to see and explore. We never had a bad day.

Bison Burgers at X-C Nationals, Lincoln, Nebraska_n

Qualifying for nationals in cross country meant a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska and post-race bison burgers. That evening, Maia talked me into going to a movie based on a book she’d recently read and was quite excited about. Although I didn’t become a Harry Potter fan, there is magic in doing things with a person you love, and I have a very fond memory of a pasta dinner at a downtown restaurant followed by watching “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” together.

Later, other things became the focal points of our lives: violins and piano lessons, cross country races and track practice, hikes and a black Labrador Retriever-Australian Shepard mix that was lovable and wild. But fishing remained. It was a constant in our lives, an unbroken thread that gave us a common language even in those times when common language between a father and his teenage daughter sometimes became elusive.

Blonde Violinist - _n

Blonde hair and a red violin – and springtime trips to a nearby lake to fish for trout and to pick fiddlehead fern heads to sauté in the pan with those trout.

Razor Clam Limit with Maia - n

Cinching up the bag on two limits of razor clams at Clatsop Beach, Oregon – fried clams for dinner!

Maia & Neal Exit Glacier Trail_n

On the Exit Glacier Trail near Seward, Alaska, with boyfriend Neal. 

Although Maia’s on her own now, we still get together every summer. We hike and explore and boat and enjoy good meals, and our days often end with a bottle of this or that and stories. And we always work in some fishing.

Maia at the helm of Bandon_n

At the helm of our sailboat, Bandon, in Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska in June, 2012.

Maia will graduate from college this spring with a degree in music composition and theory. Each time she visits, she brings us an iPod jammed with excellent music – everything from obscure Sinatra to the latest Buck 65 and tons of stuff I’d never find on my own (but end up liking). Maia’s study of music is taking her into a world that, in its depths, goes far beyond my understanding of the subject, and her life near San Francisco couldn’t be much more different than our lives up here in Alaska. And so sometimes we return to the language we know – a language of five-weight fly rods, elk hair caddises and pheasant tail nymphs. We talk of the trout waters we’ve fished and the waters we’d like to fish. And invariably we circle back to the ponds and rivers we knew in Japan and the bluegills we used to catch there, and the bike rides and those those striking little kingfishers with their shimmering turquoise backs.

Read more at: Fishing and Camping along Oregon’s Deschutes River

(Almost) Drowning Barbra: Six Years of Bliss On and Off (and in) the Water

Astoria Brunch: Freshly caught greenling fillets wrapped around local bay shrimp and Dungeness crab in a mixture of lemon, olive oil, butter, garlic and tarragon, topped with a thick slice of applewood-smoked bacon and broiled. The corn, donut peaches and blueberries were purchased that morning at the Sunday Market. Pan-fried potatoes, avocado, toasted French bread, and mimosas garnished with blueberries and slices of perfectly ripe donut peach rounded out the meal. Greenling is a wonderful fish, comparable to sole. There’s a story behind the greenling.

Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my first date with Barbra. We met on Match.com at a time in our life when we were each comfortable with who we were and knew what we wanted and did not want in a relationship. In our experience, those three prerequisites allow one to be perfectly honest when using Match.com, which is the key to making it work.

After several weeks of voluminous email correspondence and nearly daily phone conversations, all of which had gone swimmingly well, we decided to meet. At the time, I was living in Astoria, Oregon. Barbra was living in Sacramento, California. Spring break was coming up and I was planning a trip to San Francisco to hang out with a couple of buddies from my navy days. I’d be passing through Sacramento. It was perfect.

Our plan was to meet at Barbra’s house and from there to go downtown for lunch. After lunch, Barbra would give me a quick tour of Sacramento. The whole date was supposed to last about two hours.

So much for plans…

Nine hours, two delicious meals, and the long version of a walking tour of the city later, we reluctantly said our goodbyes. We were already making plans for a second date a few days later when I’d be on my way back to Astoria.

To say that our first date went well is an understatement. At every turn of conversation, we uncovered yet another point of compatibility. Barbra reminds me that I was too shy to hold her hand at first. I remind her that I could tell right away we were going to have lots and lots of time together, and there didn’t seem to be a need to rush anything.

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We didn’t go fishing the very first time Barbra visited Astoria. I think it was the second time. She’d never been fishing before, but as an avid outdoorswoman, she was eager to give it a try. So early (early early) one summer morning, I put gear for two in my Toyota Tacoma and we drove in the pre-dawn to Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. The fishing involved a descent down a steep trail to the beach, and from there a hike out to some rocks exposed at low tide where I could always count on picking up some nice surfperch and greenling.

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. Barbra was thrilled to see all the life in the tide pools on the hike out – purple and orange ocher sea stars, bright green flower-like anemones, small fish, dark purple sea urchins, and even a large, red, many-armed sun star. Getting to the fishing spot involved a scramble over seaweed covered, mussel encrusted rocks, which Barbra handled with no problem.

True to form, the fish were there. Barbra’s first fish ever was a beautifully colored 15” striped surfperch. In the next couple of hours, we caught enough striped surfperch, red tail surfperch and greenling for several meals. Seagulls, oyster catchers and other seabirds along with seals and sea lions added to the atmosphere. Barbra had a blast, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was time to go.

It was then that I realized I’d committed the cardinal error of rock fishing. We’d stayed too long. The cold tide was rushing in, pouring in like a river through the very channels that made fishing in this locale so productive. We were cut off from the beach, and our rock was disappearing fast.

Still, I thought that if we moved quickly, we could wade to the beach before the water rose any higher. With our gear packed up tightly, we made our way waist-high into the rising water. Suddenly we were trapped. The water ahead of us was too deep to go forward. Behind us, too, the water had deepened. I knew that the moment I lifted my foot, I’d be swept off my feet.

I turned to Barbra. “We’re going to lose our footing. When the water knocks you over, let it put you on your back and just float with it. Don’t fight it. We’ll be OK.”

A second later, we were looking up at blue sky, backs down in the cold Pacific, rapidly being swept out toward open sea. I knew from experience fishing river mouths that at some point the current would slacken and that as it did, with any luck there would be a sandbar shallow enough for us to regain our footing.

I reached toward Barbra. “Give me your hand.” Barbra’s eyes were as big as half-dollars. She said nothing. She held out her hand, I grabbed it, and we floated on our backs, heads pointed toward the sea. As we floated, I let my left leg hang down, probing for bottom. If this plan failed, there were a couple of exposed rocks further out we might be washed into. Beyond that, we’d hit the longshore current, too far from land. Hypothermia would set in…

Suddenly my left sneaker made a familiar scrape against sand. The bar sloped upwards rapidly, just as it should have.

“I’m on sand! Put your feet down.” I raised myself, and helped Barbra to her feet.

We’d been carried out about 50 yards. With the tide still flooding there were no guarantees. Holding Barbra’s hand, I began gingerly following the curving lip of the sandbar back toward shore.

When we finally made it to the beach, we turned around and looked out across the swirling water. The rocks we’d been fishing from were completely gone. The current was still running, but not nearly as hard as it had been. We looked at each other and smiled. “Thought we might end up in Japan for a while there,” I said sheepishly. “Geez, I’m sorry about that.”

“I knew you’d get us out of it,” Barbra replied.

Climbing up the steep trail was a slog in our wet clothing. At the truck we took inventory. Other than a thoroughly cold soaking, we were fine. Even Barbra’s camera equipment came out of the ordeal unscathed. We climbed in, I turned on the engine, blasted the heat, and we headed home.

The day was still young. Back at my apartment, I took a hot shower. While Barbra got cleaned up, I walked the three blocks down to the Sunday Market and got us a couple of coffees from The Rusty Mug and blueberries, donut peaches and some salt-and-pepper corn from market vendors. Coming up the stairs to my apartment, I could hear a CD Barbra had chosen from my collection.

It was a Johnny Cash album…

What a woman!